Beth Buelow, PCC

What the World Needs Now

I’m about to say something that’s not said very much right now.

I have hope. Lots of it.

My normally optimistic nature was crushed — practically pulverized — on November 8, 2016. And to echo what many others have said: it wasn’t because the candidate I supported lost. It’s because fear won. While some of my friends moved immediately to anger and action, I stayed in shock for a while. I was awash in sadness and grief for longer than I care to share.

Since then, after a long break from the news and social media, I’ve started to find the ground under my feet. I see the same thing happening to my friends. That’s reason for hope right there.

What’s continued to build my hope is bearing witness to — and being part of — the groundswell of voices speaking out and standing up for what they believe in.

A few things have become clear to me in the past 94 days since November 8, and others have only grown murkier and messier. For now, I’m going to focus on points of clarity.

Hope James Lawson
A still from “Love and Solidarity”

Our local nonprofit cinema recently presented a free showing of the documentary “Love and Solidarity” (Bullfrog Films). In a very efficient 38 minutes, the film delivered a powerful, timely message on civil rights, the labor movement, and immigration. Underneath those issues and binding them together was the truth that we have failed to create economic equality in this country, and we have failed to treat those who labor with the dignity deserved by every human being. Until we address that failure in a systemic, intentional way, we are going to continue in vicious cycles of injustice on every level.

The other theme was that of nonviolence, a point that’s extraordinarily relevant now that we have a fear-mongering, violent communicator in the White House. The film focused on the work of the Rev. James Lawson, an African-American Methodist minister who worked alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. For decades, Rev. Lawson has carried forward King’s message of using nonviolent means to respond to oppression and bring about meaningful change.

After the movie, several of us made our way to a local pub to continue the conversation. I shared my burning question: we know that protesters and activists are being trained in nonviolent protest and communication, but what about law enforcement? What responsibility do the police have to learn those same techniques in order to de-escalate confrontations? This part of our conversation caught the ear of the gentleman at the table next to us, who turned around and started listening to us.

What followed was a moment of pure synchronicity. He said, “Well, I know something about that. My son was the guy in the pink shirt at SeaTac airport during the immigration protests who was pepper-sprayed by police. Video of the incident has been viewed close to 6 million times and covered around the world.”

Todd Silver, a Tacoma business owner, then shared more of the story of what happened and how he and his son have been affected by it. He shared that he used to identify as more conservative — he’d always voted Republican — until his son came out and the politics he thought he knew were changing in ways he didn’t agree with. So he’s now seeing himself as more progressive, and he’s invited his friends to a once a month gathering at a pub to have open conversations about what’s going on in the world. Before he left, he asked us to pay attention to and support the local Pierce and Kitsap County YMCA’s campaign to ensure transgender persons can feel safe and welcome in all of their facilities.

I feel hope. I truly do. Here’s what a night out for a movie and conversation taught me and why it matters:

Violence does not call for, and is only amplified by, a violent response.

We must insist on a nonviolent approach to every obstacle we face. That does not mean we don’t resist; it means that we are mindful in our resisting that we embody the dignity and respect we believe is the right of every human being. Be the change, as Gandhi implored us.

I’m sitting with the puzzle of how anger, love, and nonviolence can co-exist. I believe that the angrier one is, the more important it becomes to embrace a nonviolent approach. Can we stand up for human rights without actual physical violence? I hope so. I sincerely do. Can we do it without violent thought and speech? It’s not headed that way, but I’m naive and stubborn — I still think that nonviolence in thought, word, and deed is the only way we have any chance of succeeding.

I’m searching my heart, which struggles with hateful thoughts about 45 and his enablers, to see how I can turn that anger, disgust, and fear into love. Coming from love doesn’t mean I agree or comply or become passive. It doesn’t mean I’m immune from anger, grief, or anguish. To me, it means I try with all I have to respond to the people causing pain with the only thing that will cancel out hate: seeing them as people in pain. As people who live in fear.

To respond to hate with hate does no good. I’m convinced of that. It’s emotional porn. It feels gratifying for a minute, to lash out and call him a cheeto and all of them asshats and talk about kicking them in the balls. And maybe it’s okay to do that for a minute (but I’d still challenge us, me included, not to) — but we can’t get stuck there.

We need to not only resist change we can’t believe in; we need to resist being seduced by the dark side and morphing into the very fear we seek to overcome.

“I would not look upon anger as something foreign to me that I have to fight… I have to deal with my anger with care, with love, with tenderness, with nonviolence.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace

Change happens one person, one conversation at a time.

It’s gathering with friends and strangers alike, in the back of a pub, to talk about what we all care about and how we can bridge our differences. It’s not about winning people over into your corner; it’s about eliminating the corners, the aisle, the walls. Look for opportunities in your town; Indivisibleis a well-organized effort and likely meeting near you. Now is not the time to isolate; we must find strength in numbers and action.

We must respond to this historic upheaval using whatever resources and skills we have available.

We are in a unique moment in time (well, that’s always true!), one that has an urgency not experienced by many of us 30/40-something-year-old folks. And how we respond to that urgency is going to be different for each of us.

I’ve witnessed so much churn. People are openly questioning their priorities, personally and professionally. I’ve found myself exploring how my gifts, skills, and personality intersect with the needs I see all around me. It’s like I have to find my voice all over again. It will require a departure from the path I’ve been on, and I’m starting to believe that’s okay. And if you feel that way, it’s okay for you, too. So what if you make less money, or less progress on your professional goals, because you shift your energy to making a different contribution? That’s a privileged statement, I fully admit. And for me, it’s an example of using my privilege for good. I can’t turn away from the urgency.

Yes, we have to “check our privilege”: check it to see how it can be leveraged to make a meaningful impact. Push aside that white guilt, or any shame you might feel for not being a marcher/phone caller/protester/hell raiser, and reflect on what only you can do to make a difference.

If you are living and working according to what your soul is calling you to be and do, then you are virtually guaranteed to make a positive contribution. Your soul will not lead you astray.

The meaning of life, why we’re here, is to love one another and love ourselves enough to honor our gifts by acting on them. Put in spiritual terms, respecting and amplifying our gifts is one way we worship and express our gratitude to a higher power for being alive.

We need to fulfill this calling NOW.

You might feel like me — a little late to the love and solidarity party, just now waking up after hitting snooze for way too long — but it’s never too late to do the right thing.

Keep recognizing that you have a capacity for love that’s stronger and bigger than your anger. (Even if we’ve never meet before, I’ve witnessed it.) See how much more energy you have for the long game ahead if you’re able to release the violence whenever it pops up and instead tap into your conviction that justice, compassion, and peace are the answer. There’s an invitation in this experience for us all to lead with what we want to create, rather than what we want to destroy. The outcome might be the same (love displacing fear), but the intention behind a creation-led effort has a very different energy.

“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”
― Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

Substitute “Not forgiving” with “Not leading with love,” and you have a powerful reminder of what can happen if we let our fear drag us into the future. We only poison ourselves.

Take action based in hope. Love biggly. Look at one another with an understanding that hate is really fear and pain (how does that influence your view of those who persecute you?). Choose the nonviolent path in thought, word, and deed. Listen more. Talk more.

Remember: The journey of justice and compassion is a marathon, not a sprint. Act on what breaks your heart, and take time to honor what makes your heart sing.

We can all have hope. Lots of it… and then some.

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